Venue : Rockbund Art Museum
Organization : Rockbund(support)
The first large-scale solo exhibition in China by the Belgian-born artist Francis Alÿs, La dépense, is on view at the Rockbund Art Museum from November 9, 2018 to February 24, 2019, curated by Yuko Hasegawa.
One of the most influential artists of the contemporary period, Francis Alÿs lives and works in Mexico City. Arriving there in 1986 armed with an architectural education, Alÿs began to make works that revolved around the city’s distinctive local culture, history, and society, ultimately expanding his artistic inquiry to a range of locations around the world that he has traveled to and spent time getting to know. With his acute poetic and imaginative powers of perception, Alÿs raises questions about anthropology and geopolitics, creating works from his close observations of everyday life. He has had numerous major exhibitions, including at the Tate Modern in London, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, among many others. La dépense, the artist’s first institutional solo exhibition in China, will present close to 1300 works, including drafts, videos, sketches, paintings, drawings, and other preparatory works, some of which have never been seen by the public before, offering a rare glimpse into the artist’s working methods.
The exhibition’s title La dépense, which translates as “consumption,” refers in particular to the theories of French philosopher Georges Bataille. As the curator Yuko Hasegawa notes: “In a China transformed by a fast-paced transition to capitalism and the efficiencies of technology, excessively ‘non-productive consumption’ (dépense improductive) is just as important in human activity as productive consumption.” Such a notion is tightly wounded into Alÿs’ artistic practice, which Hasegawa commends for “courageously grappling with the status quo; casting doubts on our visual sense; rethinking the meaning of the labor of manual work and what it means to consume time: these are among the subtle messages from Alÿs’ work that can be applied to the situation in China.”
From 2000 to 2010, Alÿs returned to the plateaus outside of Mexico City at the same time every year with a handheld video camera, boldly rushing towards the tornadoes that would form there during the dry season so that he could enter the eye. Capturing the extreme tension between the swirling exterior and the tranquil inner core, this well-known video work, Tornado (2000-2010), visually narrates this fundamentally non-productive act. As Alÿs has stated, “we of our times must create fables.” The large number of tornado sketches that the artist amassed during this decade—the entire process of production, from conception to video editing—will be displayed to the public, revealing a rarely seen facet of the work. Similarly, in the latest video work Exodus (2014-2018), a girl repeatedly braids and unbraids her hair. For this less-than-one-minute long video, the artist created close to 1000 hand-drawn sketches, which will also be presented in the exhibition. As the curator explains: “Here you will find direct encounters and physical involvement of the sort gradually threatened and forgotten by our digitized world, as well as suggestions that make us aware of, or recognize anew, the value of manual work.”
Alÿs has always maintained a consistent creative trajectory while pursuing new ideas and projects. For instance, in the ongoing body of work Le Temps du sommeil (1996-), the artist has devoted over 20 years to continually reworking the same 111 small oil paintings on canvas, with the total number of canvases never changing. This exhibition will include new paintings from Alÿs’s 2017 “Nei Mongol” (2017) series, which were made during trips that Alÿs took last year to Shanghai and Inner Mongolia. These works recall the series "The Loop" (1997) made during his first visit to Shanghai in the 90s, a journey where the artist continually traveled in a South East direction around the world. This ensured that the artist undertook the longest possible route back to his departure point, such that his journey would finish on the border separating Mexico and the USA, but from the other side. This epic of anti-economic creative logic offers a good example of the principle “maximum effort, minimum result” that could be read as the postulate running behind the works on display in this exhibition.
For the duration of Francis Alÿs: La dépense, Rockbund Art Museum will host a series of public education events, including lectures and workshops, allowing viewers to further engage with the ideas found in the artist’s work. For the occasion of Alÿs' first institutional exhibition in China, an exhibition catalogue will be published in early 2019. The exhibition coincides with the artist’s participation in the upcoming 12th Shanghai Biennale at the Power Station of Art in Shanghai, which also opened in November 2018.